Social Bite café at Rainy Hall: Andrew Bailie

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Welcome to our latest café and what will
surely be the front page of our next annual report. I will never forget the inspirational
first words that the founders of Social Bite said to me. They said “Oh no way, you are
‘way too young, we are going to get an adult to do this job.” [Laughter] Thankfully the
rest of the interview went a bit better and I now have the privilege of being the partnerships
manager for Social Bite, and I’ve been asked just to explain, very briefly, how we’ve
gotten ourselves into this wonderful position. We are a chain of cafés that exist to
end homelessness in Scotland. We started only seven years ago which is about the length
of time that it takes – maybe some of the newest members of this room, from starting secondary
school to arriving at the University of Edinburgh – about 7 years to get from here to wearing
one of the more impressive robes that are in the room. So we are a very young company
and we started off in Rose Street which is just behind Princes Street, with an absolutely
tiny café and a very simple business model, the idea was that we would just run this café
and any profits that we had at the end of the month we would give it away to a charity
or several charities that happened to catch our eye that month. It didn’t have to be
about homelessness or really any particular issue at all, and we also weren’t making
any money so it was fairly academic what we would give it away to. So we kept plugging
away at that for a few months in a tiny café and we hit along this idea of a pay-it-forward
system and that’s not rocket science at all. The idea is that you can come into our
café and as well as buying our coffee, our cake, our new salads, you can also pay forward
a meal for someone less fortunate who can come in and redeem that voucher and access
a dignified meal and be treated in the exactly same way as a paying customer and often receive
a little bit of support or interest in other things that are going on in their life. So
a simple model and it really took off people from the community who were experiencing homelessness
started using us for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We got to know them all very well
and after a couple of months of that, one of the guys asked for a job. We still weren’t
a homelessness charity at that stage, but we were brutally understaffed and he seemed
pretty sound, so we gave him a job and he quite quickly realised that we’d just say
yes to anything that sounded like a good idea, so very quickly we gave 5 of his mates jobs
as well. [Laughter] If you’ve been into our Rose Street café it’s not big and it’s
certainly not big in comparison to this – it’s actually about twice the size of this stage. It was when 5 of the people working in this tiny little kitchen had all had almost
exactly the same rough hands dealt to them from birth and the same experience of being
systemically excluded from housing in Scotland that we thought wouldn’t it be much better
if we really had a laser sharp focus in this goal of ending homelessness in Scotland? Stop giving
away our profits without a strategy and turn our whole business model into a tool for achieving
that? And the idea took off really quickly. We quickly opened another café in Edinburgh –
still not as nice as this one – and expanded to Aberdeen and Glasgow. One third of our workforce
was and remains from a homeless background and we now give away 140,00 meals every single
year off the back of the generosity of the Scottish public. So the model was going quite
well. We were addressing the food side of things, as I say, 140,000 meals, which – one
of the benefits is that none of our competitors are ever going to steal our business model,
because it doesn’t make any sense! We were doing the jobs. Not only were we giving jobs
out to people, living wage, 21 month contracts, we were also providing the skills-based and
employment-based training that was needed often to get people from quite far away from
the labour market into becoming valuable members of our team. We now started thinking, we are
a homelessness charity, and we have to start caring about houses and housing – and that seemed
like the natural next step for our tiny little cafés. I won’t bore you all to death with
the exact mechanics of our business model but I promise that you can’t make a big
structural change to the housing market by selling sandwiches and coffee. Maybe actually
we should’ve got our coffee listed grade A, and then we could’ve charged £3.3 million
for it… but that’s for another time. So we knew that we needed one big massive idea to take
the next step with our impact, and that idea was ‘Sleep in the Park’ which is what
a lot of people first came to encounter Social Bite in. As you might be able to tell, I’m
not from Scotland, I’m not Scottish. I came here to study and got happily stuck. I got
this job at Social Bite and they said “Okay, well our cafés are going quite nice, we’re
training up all these people, helping people to escape homelessness throughout Scotland,
it’s all going very well. But our next big idea is essentially, we are going to do this
‘Sleep in the Park’ thing.” As an Irish person I had all these stereotypes about
my new home, and I think a lot of people will maybe have stereotypes about their new home
as well, it’s quite common. I now know that none of these things are true but when
I moved here I thought three things were true about Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh.
One is that it is very very cold all of the time, which actually is true [Laughter]. The second:
I had a connection in my head between Scotland and the distilling business and whisky and
Scotland’s always a bit of a party, which again hasn’t been too far off the truth. The third untrue stereotype I had about my new home was that Scottish people are tight
with money, and I know that none of these things are true now. But we started off and
they said, “We are going to start housing people from our cafés and the idea is, essentially,
we are going to have a massive party, where no one is allowed to drink alcohol, and you
have to get fundraising and sponsorship from all of your friends and if you do that well,
your reward Is that you get to sleep outside in Edinburgh in December!” That is going
to be a complete bloodbath, it’s not going to work at all! But thankfully it did and
it completely blew away all my stereotypes about Scotland. We had absolutely hundreds
of people – some of whom I know are actually in this room today, both from the student and staff
body in the University of Edinburgh – came and they joined us and they raised £millions. Now we have two housing projects. One is the Social Bite Village, which is some
housing that we built up in North Edinburgh, that 20 people currently live in. We help
them live there for a year/18 months then move them into permanent mainstream housing. And the other housing project we’re investing in, with the help again of the University
of Edinburgh, is Housing First. Since December we’ve managed to get 100 of the most socially-excluded people in Scotland off the streets and into housing but housing alongside the
support that is required to make the tenancy stick. By March 2021, if we can keep growing,
we are hoping to house 830 people across Scotland and none of that would be possible without
our partnerships and without the amazing staff that you are all hopefully going to get to
know in our kitchen. This is a really exciting time for us as a company. This is not only
an ascetic step up for Social Bite – come see our other cafés, they’re nice but, you
know… [Laughter] …it’s also the time that were going from being a plucky start
up that just runs cafés to something that is trying to make a real systemic change – and
no longer trying to do it alone. The University of Edinburgh, an institution with this status,
a venue as historically significant and an engaged student and staff body as we’ve
already started to come to know – we’re really glad to be on this journey with you and look
forward to serving you lots of coffee and cake in the years to come. Thank you.


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